What Is Cinco De Mayo?

We break down what the holiday signifies and how Mexican-Americans celebrate.

What do you know about Cinco de Mayo? It’s an important holiday, but you can’t quite remember what it’s about, right?

There’s a lot of confusion about why Cinco de Mayo is celebrated, so MTV Tr3s sent comedian Cristela Alonzo to Los Angeles’ historic Olvera Street to get some answers.

Cinco de Mayo means “fifth of May” in Spanish. On that date in 1862, the Mexican army defeated the French at the Battle of Puebla, despite being outnumbered and ill-equipped. Almost 150 years later, the holiday is still being celebrated by Mexican-Americans as a way, Alonzo said, to “stand up and say, ‘I am proud of my Mexican heritage.’ ”

Of course, it’s not all about history and cultural pride. Cinco de Mayo is also an opportunity to let loose. At the annual festival on Olvera Street this past weekend, the mariachi bands played and the margaritas flowed as revelers flocked to the streets to take part in the celebration. Many were unaware of the historical significance.

“Let’s face it,” Alonzo said. “Most of us use Cinco de Mayo as an excuse to get drunk and party.”

Here’s how one tipsy gentleman celebrates the holiday: “Basically with the family, [eat] carne asada, get drunk, you already know!”

Throughout the weekend on Olvera, traditional Mexican bands performed, and passers-by took part in spontaneous song and dance. There were also free educational and cultural workshops for kids, including coloring portraits of Mexican heroes, storytelling about the battle, and piñata and Mexican flag-making instructions. Up and down the street, people chowed down on time-honored Mexican dishes like mole poblano chicken and chile relleno.

“There are plenty of ways to celebrate Cinco de Mayo,” Alonzo said. “What’s important is to remember the meaning behind the holiday. … It’s about freedom and to celebrate those who had the courage to defend it.”